Opinion: Putin, Tehran and the Drone Dealers
(Source: Deutsche Welle German Radio; issued July 19, 2022)
Officials deny that the Russian President's visit to Tehran is also about the delivery of combat drones. That is unlikely, says Kersten Knipp — and argues that the countries are united in their fight against democracy.


What will Russian President Vladimir Putin discuss in Tehran on Tuesday? If the official statements from both countries are to be believed, the delivery of Iranian-made (combat) drones to Russia was not on the agenda.

Last week the United States said such deliveries were being prepared. According to Jake Sullivan, US President Joe Biden's national security adviser, the Iranian government is "preparing to provide Russia with up to several hundred unmanned aerial vehicles," including those capable of carrying weapons, "on an expedited timeline."

"No," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in response to a reporter's question. The delivery of drones would not be discussed, he said. Iranian Foreign Minister Hussein Amirabdollahian recently assured Ukraine that his country would not supply Russia with drones. He said US claims were baseless and aimed at achieving specific political goals.

However, the US said again over the weekend that such plans exist. According to Sullivan, there are indications that a Russian delegation recently visited an airfield in central Iran at least twice for information on the Islamic Republic's ambitious drone program and to look at weapons-capable drones.

Credibility issues

With regard to the opposing claims, however, Russia and Iran have a problem — there is little reason to trust either country's official statements. Even shortly before the attack on Ukraine, Russia's highest government officials denied any such plans, lying in an unprecedented manner. The fact that Iran last month removed two International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) surveillance cameras from a uranium enrichment facility in a dispute over the country's nuclear program indicates a style that isn't strong on trust, also because the data stored on the cameras has not been forwarded to the IAEA since the beginning of 2021. In that light, what the two countries claim will not be discussed during Putin's visit to Tehran is not worth much.

Enemies of democracy

Iran supplying Russia with drones seems plausible for one reason in particular — both closely aligned regimes are fierce opponents of any form of political freedom and the rule of law. The idea of citizens obtaining information independently from sources they deem trustworthy is as horrific to them as the idea of citizens saying what they think, especially in public. The fervency and arbitrariness both states resort to in crackdowns on dissidents and critics is reflected in their ranking in the World Justice Project's 2021 Rule of Law Index. Russia ranked 101st out of a total of 139 countries, and Iran was ranked 119th. The two countries have similar rankings in Transparency International's 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, too — Russia was ranked 136th out of 180 countries, Iran ranked 150th.

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On the international stage, both countries also present themselves as enemies of democracy and the rule of law determined to do almost anything: In Syria, both support dictator Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths since the 2011 uprisings, with many people horribly murdered in state torture prisons. Russia and Iran did not hesitate to stand by such a regime and fight its opponents with a vengeance.

Ukraine, Syria — similar tactics

It seems entirely likely that the talks in Tehran will also touch on drones, including combat drones. Both states think along the same lines, which means fighting a policy of liberalization and the rule of law, to make sure the norms of an enlightened society subject only to the law (and not to arbitrariness and paternalism) do not win the upper hand, neither in Syria nor in Ukraine. As states, Iran and Russia have no soft powers at all, nothing that seems even remotely attractive. All that is left to such states is naked violence to safeguard their rule.

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